Have you ever seen the movie “The Roommate”? Leighton Meester plays the role of Rebecca, a college freshman who becomes obsessed with her roommate Sara. Rebecca tries to win all of Sara’s friendship and attention by stalking her, killing her cat and stabbing her ex-boyfriend to death. As if that weren’t enough, at the end of the movie, she holds Sara’s friend hostage and threatens to kill her too.
I think it’s safe to say that this is every college student’s nightmare. More often than not, this doesn’t happen. If this has happened to you, I am genuinely sorry for any physical, emotional and/or psychological trauma that has been inflicted on you by a scary, obsessive roommate.
Although roommate issues do not usually escalate to this degree, they certainly have a significant presence on college campuses. In fact, they happen regardless of whether you’ve been roommates for two weeks or two years. Maybe your new roommate has really bad body odor. Maybe they stay up late when you like to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. Maybe they eat your food without asking. These issues are not abnormal, and more importantly, they’re usually resolvable. All it takes is some simple rule-setting and the ability to speak up when something bothers you.
Rule-setting is the easy part. Concordia does a good job of encouraging healthy roommate dialogue in the dorms. Resident Assistants in each hall provide students with a form that includes boundary-setting and get-to-know-you questions. It’s the rule-following and communication that can present difficulty.
If you already made an agreement that you wouldn’t touch each other’s food, and your roommate breaks that rule, a gentle reminder is very necessary. The longer you wait to address issues, the more intolerable they become, the more angry you get and the more likely it is for you to spiral into an embarrassing tantrum over something as small as a bag of chips. More often than not, one conversation can positively change the atmosphere of your room and the respect that your roommate has for you.
Unfortunately, hygiene problems aren’t so easy to address. Hygiene is actually a bigger part of identity than you’d think — it’s kind of like singing. If your roommate loves to sing, but has a terrible voice, what do you do? Similarly, if they smell bad, do you tell them? As human beings, we’re naturally very sensitive to anything that seems to attack our identity, so these situations can be tricky. If the smell is bad enough to the point where you might not survive another day in the stench, it’s possible to carefully address the issue without making your roommate want to crawl into a hole and never come out. You can always try to bring it up casually. For example, deodorant is often sold in packs of two. Buy a two-pack and offer one to your roommate as if you don’t need both of them.
But what if you’re the problematic one? This is an angle we don’t like to observe when discussing roommate problems. We worry that our roommate will be obnoxious, dirty and rude, but we never worry that we’ll be the obnoxious, dirty and rude one. And I hate to break it to you, but sometimes you are. We’ve all irritated someone before, which means we’ve all been a problem roommate at one point or another. Sometimes we don’t realize it, and sometimes we do. But since being a roommate is a two-way street, it’s important to learn how to take criticism like a champ. If you’re the one taking food that’s not yours or if you’re the one who smells bad, don’t get super defensive when your roommate addresses the issue. They likely feel awkward enough as it is for bringing it up.
And let’s not forget that it doesn’t always work out. Sometimes your personalities are just too different. Sometimes your roommate refuses to respect your wishes and all attempts at reconciliation come to a standstill. That’s okay.
There will always be issues — huge problems that build up and blow up, or little irritations that come and go in the same day — but as long as those issues are dealt with in a calm and effective manner, it shouldn’t deter you from living with other people. If you can manage to get along, living with roommates can be one of the very best parts of college.
Ellen is a senior English-writing major and business minor at Concordia. In addition to writing for the Concordian, Ellen serves as an assistant captain for the Concordia women’s hockey team as well as Vice President for Sigma Tau Delta. She hopes to pursue a career in writing and editing.